Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The apparition of these faces in the spoon.

According to this particular passage on page 441, Saladin Chamcha is “a creature of selected discontinuities, a willing re-invention,” whose “preferred revolt against history being what makes him, in our chosen idiom, ‘false’,” and by extraction, “evil.” I want to delve into this extraction bit, exploring Chamcha’s transition from “willing re-invention” to profoundly “evil.”
A possible explanation of this can be seen packed in the warning Chamcha’s father gives him years before: “A man untrue to himself becomes a two-legged lie, and such beasts are Shaitan’s best work” (48). This stern warning comes after Saladin tweaks his name from Chamchawala to simply Chamcha, which Pops isn't too fond of. In his view, as mine, when Saladin Englifies his name it signifies a voluntary exchange of home-made perceptions of self (for names have always been the functional grounding of our self-concept) for those provided by a dominant Someone Else. From this point on Saladin can no longer see himself but from the eyes of greater England, or at least what he perceives greater England to be. He will alter his appearance according to the proper British mirror, that is, the "British" concept of himself.
Unfortunately for Chamcha, however, he was never given a proper British mirror. On one hand, his voluntarily colonized eyes allow his adopted British mates to have full control over his appearance. When a few men see him as a goatish demon (the savage nature of immigrants, in their eyes), he literally takes on this very form. Thus by extraction, what he views as his self-made re-invention is actually the work of a powerful downward--and inward--racist curve that directs his eyes as it sees fit. On the other hand, he has no British mirror because he simply isn’t British. His Indian culture, background, language, way of thinking, etc, is distinctly different from the historical Anglo-Saxon culture of Great Britain. So instead of looking at himself with British eyes, Chamcha looks at himself by nature through an Indian lens. But here’s the trick: in the language of his birth, a language from which he will never be able to separate himself (again, natural lens), he has altered his name to mean, literally, “spoon”. As any curious kid could tell you, spoons turn reflections upside-down. No matter what appearance he tries to create for himself, then, Saladin Chamcha views himself and the world with skewed eyes: he is an upside-down man in an upside-down world.
A man with a skewed mirror coupled with skewed eyes is easy prey for “Shaitan’s best work.” It is impossible for Chamcha to escape internalizing the body of a hairy, smoking demon. As he says in his own words: “I have become embroiled…the grotesque has me” (269). Thus, by an initial falsity of self he takes on the form of a colonizer’s brutish apparition both in outward and inward form. The skewed internalization of his demonization as seen from the adopted, though distinctly external, eyes of the British, Chamcha has self-made, selected, even willed.
This is precisely as Ashcroft might predict. He states in his passage on mimicry, "He [the alien] copies the habits of the landlord...[and] is encouraged to mimic a compassion for the one exploiting him." It is the nature of skewed identity politics for the alien to base his/her self-concept and ways of walking around in the world off those thoughts and habits of the occupying force. Saladin falls for this heart, body, and soul. Rushdie seems to hint in this (in my view) that the work of racist domination always curves the mirror of the self irreversibly, oppressively inward, thus corrupting the self-concept of any victim of racist domination.

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